A meritorious tribal student, who was about to migrate as a daily wager just to earn enough for buying a smartphone for his online classes, was rescued in Odisha’s Malkangiri district, 650 km from here.
After his rescue, a generous government officer donated a smartphone to ensure that he did not drop out from the school.
The poignant story of Surendra Kumar Khara, a Class IX student in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya-1 in Malkangiri district has brought the focus back on children being deprived of an education due to the lack of access to online facilities during the pandemic.
Surendra, who belongs to Kondh tribe, is a first generation learner in his family and first one to attend an English medium school from his village, Bijaghati.
At the age of 18, he would have been in college. But Surendra did not have a smooth initiation into school due to his family’s impoverished financial circumstances and lack of awareness. His 17-year-old brother and 14-year-old sister have already dropped out from school and become daily wagers.
“I made the entrance for the Jawahar Navodaya schools in Class V, and since then I have been studying near the district headquarter town of Malkangiri. Like all students, I was stranded in my village due to the pandemic,” said the boy.
“Due to the lack of a smartphone, I could not start my formal studies this academic season. Though I had textbooks, there was no one in my village to guide me. Apprehending that I would lag behind in studies, I decided to migrate to Bhadrachalam in Telangana, work there for two months, and return with a smartphone for resuming studies,” he said.
When the labour agent was taking the group, including two minors, on October 11, Surendra and others suspected that they were not being taken to Bhadrachalam as was agreed, but to Bengaluru. They protested and tried to return to their village. As the labour agent used force to take them along with him, members of Jai Malkangiri, a volunteers’ group, spotted them and handed them over to the police. A case in this regard was registered with the Malkangiri Police Station.
On being informed, Alok Kumar Anugulia, Kalimela Tahasildar, rushed to Bijaghati. “The incident did not surprise me. Being a native of Malkangiri, I have seen many people leaving their studies just because they did not have ₹1,000 or ₹2,000. I did not want the student dropping out because of a smartphone. I gave him a smartphone. He has already resumed his studies,” said Mr. Anugulia.
According to Samir Ranjan Dash, School and Mass Education Minister, about 38 lakh out of 60 lakh students in Odisha did not have access to online education. When the lockdown was lifted, the number of 22 lakh students accessing online education dropped further to 7-8 lakh as parents took the only smartphone in the family to their workplaces.